New, No-Nonsense 'Batman' Swings Into Action

This is the dark "Batman," the scary "Batman," the "Batman" I've been waiting to see.

The other "Batman" movies were about the villains. The bad guys were the bigger stars. They got the bigger paychecks: We had Jack Nicholson as The Joker, Jim Carrey as The Riddler, Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze. "Batman Begins," finally, is about the hero.

Batman is the only major hero in the pantheon of comic book superheroes with no superpowers, and this film creates a mythology. Recruited by a deadly martial arts master in far-off Nepal who seeks to destroy Gotham City, Bruce Wayne decides to save his city, not destroy it.

One way critics judge a film's intent is by the supporting cast. Here we have two of Hollywood's very best: Morgan Freeman, as a Wayne Industries scientist with a backlog that just might suit a budding Batman, and Michael Caine, as Alfred the Butler.

As Rachel Dawes, Bruce Wayne's love interest, Katie Holmes didn't make me jump up and down on Oprah's couch, but she's fine in the film.

"Batman Begins" doesn't have the humor of the first four films, but that's a good thing. When Michael Keaton took on the part in 1989, he was a skinny comic, awkward as both Bruce and Batman. The scariest thing about Val Kilmer in 1995's "Batman Forever" is being alone in a room with him. Batman No. 3, George Clooney, is a lover, not a fighter.

Christian Bale is strong enough and intense enough to actually make you believe he's crazy enough to actually be Batman. Director Christopher Nolan who did "Memento," took his job seriously and made the film as if the superhero were real. The plot is a little convoluted, but they made, without question, the best "Batman" ever. Grade: A-